Taking flight

Mizzou graduate Kobi Ioni took advantage of the Pell Grant — which celebrates its 50th anniversary in 2022. It also led them to other student success opportunities.

Kobi Ioni poses next to an airplane

Mizzou graduate Kobi Ioni used the Pell Grant — and the Missouri Land Grant and Gilman Scholarship — to travel internationally and propel an aviation career.

June 23, 2022
Contact: Marcus Wilkins, wilkinsm@missouri.edu

As an airline pilot in training, it is fitting that Kobi Ioni has maintained a steady upward trajectory throughout their academic career. Ioni, a Maysville, Missouri, native, arrived at the University of Missouri in 2019. They immediately connected with an advisor, embraced their community in the LGBTQ Resource Center and harnessed a passion for linguistics and anthropology.  They also got the opportunity to study abroad in Japan before graduating in May 2022.

But it was the Pell Grant — the federal tuition assistance program celebrating its 50th anniversary this year — that set the wheels in motion while Ioni was still taxiing the runway.


“I didn’t qualify for a lot of financial aid when I started as a freshman,” said Ioni, a former dual international studies and anthropology major. “But when my sister enrolled during my sophomore year, it decreased my expected family contribution and I became eligible for the Pell.”

That categorical change for Ioni — a first-generation college student from a single-parent household — also meant they qualified for the Missouri Land Grant. Available to Pell-eligible students from the Show-Me State, the Missouri Land Grant covers tuition and fees not covered by other grants and scholarships. In other words, college was paid for.

But for Ioni, it got even better than simply reduced financial stress. Pell-eligibility is also a prerequisite for the Gilman Scholarship, a program funded by the U.S. Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs that helps undergraduate students of limited financial means study abroad. With the help of the MU Fellowships and Advanced Studies (FAS) office, Ioni was soon off to Sophia University in Tokyo to study Japanese language and culture.

“Kobi’s great because they are willing to act,” said Erik Potter, FAS student services coordinator. “Their love of Japan and the Japanese language isn’t passive. They’ve been to the country. They’re mastering the language. They’ve sought two different fellowships that would send them there to learn more.

“Kobi is active in showing gratitude, too. Kobi volunteered to help with our advising for the Gilman Scholarship, and they did it with thoughtfulness, care and a desire to see others succeed.”

Cruising altitude

Although the Pell Grant doesn’t always lead to the array of resources Ioni received, it often connects students to other opportunities for success. Approximately 20% of MU students qualify each semester for the grant — which is available only to undergraduates who have not earned a bachelor’s degree. Need is calculated based on the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA), and students can receive the grant no more than 12 terms (roughly six years).

“The Pell grant is the cornerstone to access and affordability for low-income students pursuing higher education,” said Emily Haynam, executive director of Student Financial Aid. “Pell eligibility is the key component for students to be eligible for our Land Grant program that promises full tuition to resident students, thus making college more affordable for Missouri residents.”

As Ioni trains to become a major airline pilot at Kilo Charlie Aviation in Kansas City, they remain grounded and grateful for the grant that provided a 30,000-foot view of the world — and a connecting flight to the future.

“I can see the whole world from the clouds,” Ioni said. “And now that I have this deep interest in other cultures through my studies at Mizzou — Japanese and anthropology — what better way is there to travel the globe and meet all of these people myself?”

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